Sunday, June 29, 2014

Week Ending 29 June 2014

It's been a strange week. Miss 13 was coming down with what we thought was a mild cold on the day of the trampoline competition last weekend. But it turned out to be a bit more than a minor cold and she's spent most of this week in bed and barely eating. Thankfully she's on the road to recovery now, although complaining that her jeans no longer stay up since she's lost so much weight! Needless to say not a lot of formal learning has happened. She did manage to mostly keep up with her three MOOCs though. The fact that they are comprised of multiple short segments really helped since it meant she could do just a little work when she felt able. Ecosystems finished this week with a thought provoking look at conservation efforts in China, Uganda and the Galapagos Islands. The importance of taking into account the needs of the local population and working with them was one of the key messages we took from this week. Our literature course focused on Pride and Prejudice, one of Miss 13's favourites. While she managed to watch the videos she just wasn't able to really dig in to the extra readings  as she would have had she been well. Animal Behaviour continues to be my favourite and hers too. This week was all about animal communication and, as usual, there were lots of case studies (many involving birds) which help to make the learning fascinating. Sickness has meant no progress on either of the two assignments for this course though and the first one is due next week. Not sure whether or not she'll make the deadline now. We'll keep up with the video lectures though, even if we have to scale back the rest of our plans in relation to this course.

As for me I was amazed at how much spare time I had (and how much easier it seemed to be to fit cooking and cleaning into my schedule) without homeschooling. It really made me think about what I'm going to do with myself once Miss 13 has finished. If she takes after her oldest siblings that could be in as little as 3 and a half years. Gulp! I can't see myself returning to either of my pre-children roles. After graduating the first time I worked as a policy analyst for the Department of Justice, a job I found okay but a little boring. Then I completed a PhD in history but, if the number of redundancies from local universities is anything to go by, I can't see me gaining employment as an academic either - not that I would necessarily want to. The problem is I'm not exactly sure what I would like to do with the next stage of my life.  Definitely something to ponder in my spare time.

The other strange thing about this week was the dh and I actually went out - to the movies. Can't recall the last time we did that but I know I haven't been in a movie theatre since the first  earthquake (September 2010). I was tidying up some drawers and discovered a couple of vouchers we'd been given for Christmas. I'd totally forgotten about them and they expired six months after Christmas, two days after I found them. Luckily Miss 19 was home one night to keep an eye on Miss 13 since she was so unwell I wouldn't have felt good leaving her with Mr 16 - he's not the most sympathetic nursemaid! We saw Like Father, Like Son, a Japanese film about two families who discovered their six year old sons were swapped in the hospital just after their births. It was a beautifully shot and acted movie, with lots to say about nature vs nurture, what makes a family and the role of fathers. We were both so engrossed in the film we weren't even aware of the subtitles. It brought back memories of my former self. As a student and while in my first proper job I used to belong to several film societies and go to the movies, especially the less mainstream ones, regularly. One of those things that went by the wayside when we moved overseas so dh could study and then decided to have kids as well. Student scholarships only go so far and food took priority!

No actual birding this week but there was a definite highlight online. We've been keeping an eye on a puffin cam and when we checked in on Sunday morning the egg was beginning to hatch. So we spent several hours patiently waiting and watching as the puffling (wonderful name don't you think?) slowly emerged.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Week Ending 22 June 2014

It's been a really busy weekend for Miss 13 and me. I'm really looking forward to an early night and I think she is too.

Saturday morning  was the annual winter wader count at one of the local lakes. Miss 13 and I spent several hours driving and walking around our section of the lake hunting especially for waders, but also whatever else we could spot. An absolute highlight for us was seeing our first Australasian Bittern. These birds are secretive, well camouflaged and normally hard to spot. We had just driven to the end of a road where there was a patch of raupo - one of their favoured habitats. We glanced out the window before opening the door and there was one right at the edge of the raupo, just a couple of meters from the car. A minute  later it flew further into the raupo and simply disappeared from view. Another highlight was spotting a flock of Redpolls. They're relatively common small songbirds so we're surprised not to have seen any this year up until now. No photos sadly.

The rest of the weekend was all about trampolining. Miss 13's club was hosting the South Island championships. On Saturday afternoon we went to watch the junior and senior international athletes, including one who has just won a spot at the Youth Olympics. Sunday was a full day there as Miss 13 had three events and I was marshalling the athletes all day. Standing on you feet all day attempting to keep groups of young athletes in the right order is tiring and challenging! Miss 13 had a good day though with two seconds and a third. Best of all she qualified for Nationals in the Double Mini event.

Silver medals reflect light really badly!

During the rest of the week Miss 13 was really busy, especially with her three MOOCs. All her hard work has paid off and she has caught  up with the Ecosystems course (we started it a couple of weeks late) while staying up to date with the lectures, readings and discussions for the Literature of the English Country House. Best of all is the progress she's made on her Animal Behaviour course. She's caught up on all the lectures and made good progress on both the peer graded writing and field notes assignments. Along the way  she has been learning heaps and gaining confidence in her ability to work at an advanced academic level in an area she's passionate about. I'm really impressed with the quality of the course - nothing flashy, but solid, interesting material that's well-presented. I'm learning a lot.

A lot of this week's learning has looked like this.

In other news Miss 19 is pleased to have finished her first semester exams and is now looking forward to a couple of week's break before getting stuck into the final semester of her undergrad degree. Mr 16 continues to be very busy with Scouting while managing (just) to fit his academic work into any spare chunks of time!

Linking up With Kris's Weekly Wrap-Up.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Week Ending June 15 2014

The old adages, "It never rains but it pours" and "It's either a feast or a famine" have certainly been proved true around here - at least with the number of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) we've added to our schedule. Last week we started  Literature of the English Country House, then discovered Introduction to Ecosystems and decided to join that too, even though it had started a couple of weeks previously. This week we've added a third MOOC to the mix. Clearly browsing the internet is a dangerous pastime since it led me to a Coursera course on Animal Behaviour. It started the week before I discovered it and I thought we'd just watch the videos a week late. However, as I've explored more and Miss 13 has ventured further into the course, we've started toying with the idea of having her submit the assignments and trying to earn a piece of paper at the end. Only trouble is this course has firm deadlines and we are a week behind. That plus the fact that the assignments are reasonably rigorous and advanced has Miss 13 a little daunted. But she's determined to give it a go. So we've rejigged the rest of our  schedule - no regular science this week, no regular maths next week and probably a break from foreign languages (Latin and French)  the following week -  plus adopted a slower pace with the ecosystems course. Hopefully this will buy Miss 13 the time she needs to complete the first assignment to a level she is happy with. If not we'll revert to just watching the videos, plus maybe doing the assignments for fun (they can both relate to birds so have a natural appeal for Miss 13).

Compounding the time squeeze was the number of times we were out of the house this week. It seemed that every day there was something that just couldn't be put off (a visit to my mother-in-law since it was her birthday,  and getting Mr 16 booked in for his next driver's test among other things). I declared that this coming week we won't leave the house at all. But then I had to amend that since Miss 13 wasn't keen on no trampoline training, especially with a big competition next weekend!

We've been busy , but not too busy to have fun with Basil.

One highlight of the week for Miss 13 and I was spending a whole day at the theatre. First up was a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream. This performance was unique since half the cast was from China, with the remainder being a mix of professional actors and senior students from a performing arts academy. The reviews weren't glowing (the reviewer and others found the Chinese actors difficult to understand) so I wasn't sure what to expect but we really enjoyed the performance and only occasionally found one of the actors a little hard to understand. (You can get a bit of a feel for the performance from this promo clip.) The costuming was great - a very unified look -  and the play by Nick Bottom, Peter Quince and company was hilarious. I haven't laughed so much in a long time. After the performance was over there was a question and answer session with the cast. This was a special performance for school students and I was surprised that most school groups didn't stay for this extra session. We found it to be a good way to learn more about the actors, how they prepared for their roles etc. After a quick and belated lunch break our homeschool group got a behind the scenes tour. A good chance to get a feel for sound, lighting, costuming, props, and set design, not to mention marketing, fundraising and other less well-known roles that are important to the operation of a successful theatre. All in all a great day out.

This weekend Miss 13  attended the second module of a  Gymsports coaching and leadership development course. This one focussed on fundamental movement patterns and she enjoyed it more than the first module which she found a bit basic and boring. She has two more modules this year and another four or five to complete next year. I think she'll enjoy next year's modules more and hopefully she'll be able to pick up a few hours coaching once she's finished.

Today we went out birding, the first time we've gone this month. I think we were getting withdrawal symptoms! I'd heard a Little Egret was back at a local lake after moving elsewhere for the summer. So we went to see if we could spot it . Mission successful and another addition to our list of species seen this year. It was a lovely morning and there were lots of birding highlights - a Great Egret standing right at the edge of the lake, the largest number of fantails we've ever seen in one place, large numbers of Caspian Terns fishing and several Crested Grebe diving for food.

A great end to the week. I just hope next week is less busy.

Linking up with the Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Week Ending 8 June 2014

I'll break with tradition and start with Mr 16 first. He's had a busy week. He got back on Monday from a three day Scout camp, the highlight of which was pounamu (greenstone) carving. There was also a visit to a glowworm dell, a walk around some old mining sites, and a campfire on the beach one night.

Midweek he had a driving lesson from a qualified instructor who confirmed what I thought - that Mr 16 is ready to sit the next stage of  his licence. So next week, once the six month minimum period on his current license has passed, he'll go and book the test for the next level. He is looking forward to being able to drive unaccompanied. I may never see our car again! He also completed and passed the final assessment of his computing course at the local polytechnic. We're still deciding whether or not he'll go back next semester for another course. This weekend he helped out at a camp for Cubs (8 -10 year olds)  - apparently amazed at how early they get up in the morning and how noisy they are first thing. Obviously he's forgotten he didn't always keep teenage hours! In between he did manage  - just - to fit in the boring stuff I insist on - maths, science, history, economics and the like.

This week Miss 13 and I added a few extras into the mix - not necessarily in a well-organised and planned fashion either! Firstly is A Midsummer Night's Dream. The local professional theatre company is currently performing this play and they have a special matinee performance (with discounted seat prices) for high school students. A home school mum managed to get a group booking and so we're attending next week. Therefore, Miss 13 and I have spent the week reading the play aloud using our favourite Oxford School Shakespeare series. I've also used a few comprehension questions from an online Penguin Study Guide. I've got a few other ideas squirreled away to expand on this but we didn't get to them this week - maybe next week after the performance.

A blog I read mentioned a free online course entitled Literature of the English Country House. Miss 13 loved the tv series Downton Abbey and always enjoys touring through grand old homes. In addition our literature studies are bit low key this year. In other words this seemed a perfect way to ramp things up a bit. So far we're both enjoying it. I was going to get her to complete it on her own and get a Statement of Participation but the price put me off. Such a statement may be a useful addition to her portfolio one day but I think I'll wait until closer to the end of her homeschooling career first, and possible pick a course directly related to whatever direction she intends pursuing.

While signing up for this course I discovered another course - this one  Introduction to Ecosystems. It sounded like it would complement and expand on Miss 13's interest in birds so we signed up for that as well - even though it is already part way through. So far it seems straightforward enough that I'm confident we should be able to comfortably catch up before the course ends.

We didn't get out birding even once this week, but did manage some bird related learning anyway. We had a lot of fun learning to visualize bird songs by matching them to their spectrograms. This was something new to us and I've been looking to see if I can find something similar for New Zealand birds. Not a lot of luck so far but we did find one for the Kea which we saw last weekend. Lovely bird to look at but not sure I'd want one calling outside my bedroom window! We also spent time looking at an Osprey nestcam. Big excitement with two of the three eggs hatching. The thing I like about this livecam is that it is remotely operated so when the mother bird moves off the eggs briefly an operator will zoom in, allowing a good, close look at the chicks.

The weekend ended with a trampoline competition. Miss 13 came home with two second placings which was better than expected. After her friend broke her arm 10 days ago Miss 13 lost her confidence and hadn't been able to complete one of her routines since then. Thankfully it came right on the day. One more competition in two weeks time and then there is a break for a while which is great. I'm not a natural sporting mother and if it wasn't for the fact that Miss 13 really enjoys trampolining I would happily not be involved.

I've also spent some time thinking about courses Miss 13 might enjoy next year. My plan is to just jot down thoughts and details on possible courses as they come to me and then she can look over them, decide what if any she likes, add her own idea etc. One thought that kept recurring was geography. I kept seeing mention of a soon to be released programme for highschoolers called North Star Geography, which sounded like it could really work for us - enough structure to keep us on track but enough flexibility that we could individualise the course and make it our own. And then one night I happened to discover what looks like pretty much a final draft of the whole course available online for free until the end of the month! It's sad how happy that made me!

Linking up with Kris's Weekly Wrap-up over at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Week Ending 1 June 2014

The highlight of the week for Miss 13 was being able to make the trip up into the mountains and spotting three new birds for the year - thus exceeding her goal of 85 species by the end of the month, and so moving up a spot in the ebird rankings. Dh was able to join us so it was a nice "family" outing. Given that Mr 21 isn't at home anymore, Miss 19 is busy studying and Mr 16 is often busy with Scouting or other things our concept of family outings is  more abridged than it used to be!

Our drive up was hampered by mist. It looks picturesque here but when it was thick on the road it made driving a challenge, especially on steep, narrow, winding roads. Thankfully it lifted by the time we arrived. I was afraid it would stop us being able to spot any birds at all.

The Kea - New Zealand's unique mountain parrot - was one of the bird's we were fairly certain of tracking down. We saw six and they were a highlight for Miss 13. She's never seen them in the wild before.

Keas are very curious and not afraid of humans.  As they explore things they often engage in behaviours humans don't appreciate. They'll destroy car wipers and peel all the rubber surround away so car windows actually fall out! Thankfully that didn't happen to us!

We loved being being  able to see the birds up so close. Their feathers are gorgeous and in flight you can see the scarlet underwings as well.

There is a lot of native bush in the area and we took several short walks.

On one walk Miss 13 was lucky enough to get this shot of a Tomtit. We've seen them before they but they flit around a lot and she's never managed a good photo before.

On the drive back we stopped at a couple of places with interesting limestone formations. One of the sites was Castle Hill,  where scenes for both The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Lord of the Rings  movies were filmed.

Earlier in the week Miss 13 and I attended the  morning session of a Braided River workshop which was held locally. The focus was especially on braided river birds and we heard several researchers talk about their work - how they conducted it, what they found out and what it might mean for the birds concerned. Hearing about the results of one project that we had helped with (albeit in a minor role)was especially interesting and helped cement the connection between volunteer work, scientific study and conservation efforts. Overall we learnt a lot about the challenges that braided river birds face and the challenges humans face if we want to ensure the survival of several species. With any luck Miss 13 was inspired by the possibilities, rather than daunted by the scale of the problems. If nothing else she hopefully saw first hand the relevance of maths (especially statistics) to birding.  Maybe the useful factor will help temper her dislike of the subject (although I'm not holding my breath!)

One of New Zealand's many braided rivers. After learning about them at the workshop it was good to see several up close on our drive up to the mountains. 

We've also spent a fair bit of time checking out results, photos and even the odd video from the trampoline section of the Australian Gymnastics Championships. New Zealand sent a team over and several of Miss 13's clubmates are competing. She's really excited to see them doing so well - over half have won medals so far. In not so great news one of her friends broke her arm in a training accident this week which really freaked Miss 13 out - brought back all sorts of bad memories of her own accident, although thankfully her friend's injury wasn't as bad. Miss 13's confidence really took a battering though and, with two competitions this month, I hope it recovers soon.

Mr 16 is away this long weekend on a Scout trip. Last year's highlight was knife making which he really enjoyed. This year the focus is on greenstone carving which I'm sure he'll enjoy - although I'm not sure it will be able to compare to knife making.

The library reserve system has been especially kind to me of late and over the past week I've finished three books. May favourite was probably Room by Emma Donoghue. I loved the way the author took us into the totally foreign world of Jack, who has spent all of his life in just one room until he and his mother manage to escape. I also loved Wiley Cash's  This Dark Road to Mercy. Told from the alternating points of view of three characters, young Easter's voice is the one that really drew me in. I also finished Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. I'm never sure I enjoy her novels since are heavy and tend to  focus on the darker side of life - appreciate might be a better word. After that fairly heavy lot I was a little relieved when the library reserve system then sent me two cookbooks I've had on order for a while. I love browsing through cookbooks and trying out new recipes - even if I already have a disorganised collection of more recipes than I'll ever use!

Linking up with Kris' Weekly Wrap-Up